People who received tactile massage for a range of medical issues showed significant improvements across 11 measures of health and wellness following the hands-on intervention period, a recent study reported.

“Tactile massage within the primary health care setting” focused on 43 patients who were referred by their physicians to receive tactile massage for an array of medical issues, including pain, sleep disorders, inability to move, headaches and tension. This observational study was conducted across six primary health-care centers in Stockholm, Sweden.

Tactile massage is defined by the study’s authors as “a set of patterns involving touch and light pressure [that] focuses on sensory integration excluding deep tissue massage.” The standard tactile massage sequence described begins on the backs of the legs, back, nape of the neck and scalp. From there, the massage moves to the face, chest, stomach, arms, hands, fingers, front of the legs, feet and toes.

“Massage occurs slowly in order to achieve an ‘awakening’ and gentle music is played during treatment,” state the study’s authors.

The subjects observed for this study each received a one-hour tactile massage once a week for 10 weeks. Before and after the study period, these participants completed three questionnaires: the enlarged Health Index, the Borg CR10 scale and Sense of Coherence.

The Health Index evaluates subjects’ feelings of well-being and experience of health. Questions focus on such topics as energy, mood, fatigue, loneliness, sleep, vertigo, bowel function, pain, mobility and workability.

The Borg CR10 scale is used to measure the intensity of perceived pain, and the Sense of Coherence questionnaire investigates the ability to handle and adjust to situations in life.

By comparing the patient questionnaires from before and after 10 weeks of tactile massage, researchers found there were significant improvements on quite a few measures of the Health Index, including perceptions of energy, mood, tiredness, sleep, pain, movement, general health and physical health.

Among the subjects, 72 percent reported their general state of health as very or rather poor before the sessions of tactile massage. Following the intervention period, that number decreased to 37 percent.

Pain estimates according to the Borg CR10 scale also improved, which implies tactile massage reduced participants’ perceptions of pain. Scores on the Sense of Coherence questionnaire did not change significantly.

“The positive effects of [tactile massage] were documented in relations to pain, sleep relaxation, energy and mood,” state the study’s authors. “Improvements reported by the patients are derived from the questionnaires and express increased energy, feeling happier, decreased tiredness, improved sleep, lower pain, increased ability to move their bodies and improved general and physical health in the previous week.”

Authors: Katarina Andersson, Lena Törnkvist and Per Wändell.

Sources; Center for Family and Community Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Huddinge, Sweden. Originally published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice (2009) 15: 158-160.